Tuesday, March 5, 2024

A vintage trip through hidden Spanish history and culture

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If the legend were true, Christopher Columbus might not have accidentally made a huge blunder in the New World in 1492 if it weren’t for his friendship with Bishop Toro. His Excellency vouched for Columbus to the Queen of Spain, and is still remembered today as the “Catholic Isabella,” as a result of which Columbus sailed westward and later discovered that the first wine delivered to the Americas came from Toro. I did.

History feels very close to you as you walk through the cobblestone streets of Toro, an ancient city that fell to Hannibal in 220 BC and was conquered by the Moors in the 8th century. It was from Toro that Wellington launched his final campaign to drive Napoleon’s forces out of Spain in 1813.

Toro, with a population of just under 10,000, is located 220 km northwest of Madrid, in the department of Zamora.
Castile and León, a vast autonomous community in northwestern Spain.

Bordered by Portugal to the west and surrounded by mountains to the north, east and south, Castilla y León is Spain’s largest, albeit sparsely populated region, and has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other region of the world. It holds a legacy.

I will be visiting Castilla y León in October for a 3-day vacation, traveling the Spanish Wine Route of Toro and Arribes del Duero. You’ll be enchanted by the region’s rich history, leisurely pace, and the way the autumn sun shines over the vineyards and valleys. And a dusty city shining in golden light.

Wine is the lifeblood of Castile and León, and Toro’s wine’s robustness made it ideal for Christopher Columbus’ long voyages. Many of Toro’s grapes survived the phylloxera plague that hit European vineyards in the 19th century. This means Toro is home to some of Europe’s oldest vineyards.

Unsurprisingly, the region has its own wine museum, with guided tours ( €8 including wine tasting and tapas) indicates that 90% of all wine produced in Toro is red wine made from Tempranillo grapes. Toro is also home to the Chillon Cheese Museum. There, you’ll learn about his four-generation history of the Chillon family of cheesemakers, before sampling the delicious products.

In nearby Bodegas Fariña, three generations of winemakers have built one of the most important family wineries in Spain. ( Tours with wine and local Zamorano cheese start from €8.)

At Bodega Histórica, step several floors down from the street to visit a traditional wine cellar. Here we discover an interesting underground war of hidden tunnels that pass under most of the city above.

Toro’s Santa Maria la Mayor church was built in the 12th century and features stunning artwork. One of her works that attracts such attention is a painting of the Flemish Virgin of Mosca (“Madonna of the Flies”) and a rarely painted sculpture of the pregnant Virgin Mary, dating from the 13th century. But perhaps the most spectacular sight is the view from this medieval church over the lush Duero River valley.

In such an agricultural society, it is only natural that the local food is delicious. The price is also quite attractive. Dine at the Toro’s Divina Proporción winery for a fantastic five-course lunch or for the sumptuous sum of 20 euros.

Castillo Monte la Reina is a beautiful 19th-century neo-Gothic castle set in a vast vineyard, offering atmospheric and elegant accommodation. ( Double 90 euros, breakfast included ) Despite the grandeur, dinner at the adjoining restaurant is yet another princely feast, with pauper’s prices. It is impossible not to mention the affordability of vacationing here.

From Toro, head south to Arribes del Duero and stay in the medieval hilltop town of Fermoselle.

This 2,000-year-old town is home to around 1,500 people and is known locally as the Town of 1,000 Wine Cellars. Many of those cellars are more than 1,200 years old,

The busy streets are dotted with perfectly preserved Roman architecture.

For centuries, Fermoser became a haven for Jews fleeing persecution. The guide explains how Jews make fake chorizo ​​by dyeing rice in a pig’s belly as “proof” of conversion.

Today, some of the ancient stone door frames still have crosses carved into them, indicating that the inhabitants were Christians, but locals believe that a Star of David may have hung on the inside of the door. residents say. (Gerald Goldberg, who was elected Mayor of Cork in 1977, had his father Louis, a Lithuanian Jew and an ardent Irish Republican during the Irish War of Independence, live in his Jewish quarter home with the Prince and Princess of Wales.) (I remember that it had a portrait of Edward and Alexandra on display.) In doing so, Goldberg Sr. succeeded in fooling the Black and Tans’ raids using the old country trick of fooling the Jewish marauding Cossacks with tsarist symbols. )

Aribes del Duero is deep wine country. At El Hato y El Garabato, José and Liliana’s small family-run winery on the outskirts of Fermozel, you can knead grapes with your bare hands and listen to the hiss and whisper of fermenting yeast.

We will stay that night at the 4-star Posada Doña Urraca ( B&B from €60) and enjoy another wonderful dinner. Her second night in Fermocel, she dines at La Enoteca del Marques, enjoying modern burgers, beers, and cocktails.

Visitors keeping an eye on the clock may notice that in Fermoselle, telephone signals travel back and forth across the border. The phone sometimes resets to Portuguese time which means he is off by an hour and this is why he misses his marmalade making session.

The landscape of Arribes del Duero is breathtaking. We recommend a visit to the Barrancas lookout point in Fariza, which offers stunning views of the Duero River and its surrounding valleys, which form the natural border between Spain and Portugal. His one-hour cruise on the river from the Portuguese side of the border costs 18 euros and also offers spectacular views as eagles soar overhead.

Salamanca Constitution Square
Salamanca Constitution Square

Your final night in Castilla y Leon will be spent in the beautiful 18th century 5-star Hacienda Zorita Nature Reserve with an organic farm in Salamanca. B&B €150 [url=https://
]hasinendazorita.com[/url]). Dating back to 1336, it operated as a monastery for many years, hosting learned guests including Christopher Columbus in 1487.

On my last morning, I woke up to the sound of rain and smiled, thinking that Spain was preparing me for my return home. But it’s not raining. The only sound is the wind rustling through the leaves outside as a new golden day dawns in wine country.

Eating at Toro

The food in this area is great and the prices are great too. A fantastic five-course lunch at Toro’s Divina Proporción winery costs €20 midweek and €25 at the weekend. divinaproporcionbodegas.es

like a local

There is so much to do and see in Castilla y Leon and the value for money is very refreshing. The Arrives Wine Route website provides a very useful guide when planning a trip to the region. rutadelvinoarribes.com

escape note

Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Iberia Express offer daily direct flights from Dublin to Madrid. The car journey from Madrid to Toro takes 75 minutes, and from Madrid to Fermoselle he takes 3 and a half hours. The high-speed train from Madrid to Zola takes 1 hour and 50 minutes, the bus or taxi from Zola to Toro takes 35 minutes, and the journey from Zola to Fermoselle takes 55 minutes.

Donal was a guest of the Spanish Tourist Board

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